In late August, Hercules Shepherd Jr. walked up to the stand in a Cleveland courtroom, dressed in an orange jumpsuit. Two nights earlier, an officer had arrested him at a traffic stop with a small bag of cocaine, and he was about to be arraigned.
Judge Jimmy Jackson Jr. looked at Shepherd, then down at a computer-generated score on the front of the 18-year-old's case file. Two out of six for likelihood of committing another crime. One out of six for likelihood of skipping court. The scores marked Shepherd as a prime candidate for pretrial release with low bail.
"We ask the court to take that all into consideration," said Shepherd's public defender, David Magee.
Not long ago, Jackson would have decided Shepherd's near-term future based on a reading of court files and his own intuition. But in Cleveland and a growing number of other local and state courts, judges are now guided by computer algorithms before ruling whether criminal defendants can return to everyday life, or remain locked up awaiting trial.